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The right to request flexible working: a 'very British' approach to gender (in)equality?


The UK has introduced an unusual right for parents of young children to be able to request a change to their working arrangements, and an obligation on employers to consider such requests seriously. This paper examines why such a right was adopted in the UK, and assesses its impact. Different models of gender equality are examined and the argument made that movement towards a universal care-giver/ worker model is likely to be the most effective way of promoting gender equality, particularly in the UK context. The paper goes on to consider whether and under what conditions the right to request flexible working can contribute to furthering gender equality through such a model in the UK and similar societies.


In December December: see month.  2000 the UK Government published a Green Paper Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice (Department of Trade and Industry The Department of Trade and Industry was a United Kingdom government department which was disbanded with the announcement of the creation of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on 28 June 2007[1].  2000), a consultation document on changes in family leave regulations, which asked respondents In the context of marketing research, a representative sample drawn from a larger population of people from whom information is collected and used to develop or confirm marketing strategy.  to nominate nom·i·nate  
tr.v. nom·i·nat·ed, nom·i·nat·ing, nom·i·nates
1. To propose by name as a candidate, especially for election.

2. To designate or appoint to an office, responsibility, or honor.
 their top three priorities for 'action which will bring the best outcomes for parents and employers at an affordable price' so as 'to make it easier for parents in work to balance their responsibilities' and 'juggle holding down a job with being a good parent'.

The Government recognises that mothers' reduced engagement in the labour market when they have children represents a serious loss of skills to the economy, and is keen to encourage higher levels of employment, particularly full-time full-time
Employed for or involving a standard number of hours of working time: a full-time administrative assistant.

 employment, for all sections of the population. Further, it is committed to cutting the very high levels of child poverty in the UK. It sees growing up in a 'workless household' as the main cause of child poverty, and enabling lone parents lone parent nparent m unique

lone parent lone nAlleinerziehende(r) f(m)

lone parent n (unmarried) (=
 in particular to stay in the labour market as the most important step in lifting their children out of poverty (HM Treasury 1999). It therefore recognises that improving the viability of, and rewards to, combining employment with motherhood is an important step in reducing child poverty.

However, the Government also claims another goal in this area: to promote 'choice'. It used various permutations of that term not only in the title of its original Green Paper (Department of Trade and Industry 2000), but also in its documents laying out its new tax credits Balancing Work and Family Life: Enhancing Choice and Support for Parents (HM Treasury and DTI Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)
A refinement of magnetic resonance imaging that allows the doctor to measure the flow of water and track the pathways of white matter in the brain.
 2003) and its child care strategy Choice for Parents, The Best Start for Children: A Ten Year Strategy for Childcare (HM Treasury, DfES DfES Department for Education and Skills (UK government; formerly DFEE)
DFES Doctors for Emergency Service
, DWP DWP Department of Work and Pensions (UK)
DWP Drinking Water Program
DWP Dynamic Weapon Pricing (gamin, Counter-Strike: Source)
DWP Department of Water & Power
DWP Drinking Water Protection
 and DTI 2004), and again in its more recent consultation on further changes to work and family policy, Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility (Department of Trade and Industry 2005). The sub-title of the 2000 Green Paper shows its motivation and focus, on both boosting UK competitiveness (by enabling more parents to stay in employment) and on expanding choice for parents (in combining employment with parental responsibilities Parental responsibility
  • in the European Union, parental responsibility (access and custody) refers to the bundle of rights and privileges that children have with their parents and significant others as the basis of their relationship;

In an act of cooperation both unprecedented and successful, a number of trade unions, pressure groups and women's organisations formed a working group to coordinate their response to the Green Paper. The working group agreed on the top three priorities that all member organisations would highlight in their responses, with each giving reasons appropriate to their specific organisational focus. These three priorities were:

* an extension of paid maternity leave maternity leave nbaja por maternidad

maternity leave maternity ncongé m de maternité

maternity leave maternity n
 from 18 to 26 weeks and a higher rate of maternity MATERNITY. The state or condition of a mother.
     2. It is either legitimate or natural. The former is the condition of the mother who has given birth to legitimate children, while the latter is the condition of her who has given birth to illegitimate children.

* the introduction of paid parental leave parental leave
A leave of absence granted to a parent to care for a new baby.

* the introduction of a fight for all parents of pre-school children to reduce their working hours.

Since 2001, statutory legislation has been introduced that touches on each of these proposals, though does not deliver them in full. Future legislation is planned to extend rights in two out of these three areas.

Both the prioritising of these particular areas and the legislative responses to them illustrate the defining features of UK work and family policy. Alan A`lan´   

n. 1. A wolfhound.
 Johnson, the Trade and Industry secretary, the minister responsible for this area of policy, remarked of current proposals 'this is a very British work and families bill and a very British approach' (Eaglesham Coordinates:  Eaglesham (pronounced "Eagles-ham") is a village in East Renfrewshire, Scotland. Today it is chiefly a dormitory town for commuters to nearby Glasgow and other parts of the traditional Renfrewshire.  2005). There are some ways in which the British system is relatively generous to parents and carers, particularly in comparison with North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere.  and Australia Australia (ôstrāl`yə), smallest continent, between the Indian and Pacific oceans. With the island state of Tasmania to the south, the continent makes up the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary state (2005 est. pop. , but compared to many European European

emanating from or pertaining to Europe.

European bat lyssavirus
see lyssavirus.

European beech tree

European blastomycosis
see cryptococcosis.
 countries it is on the whole less sympathetic to parents and carers and more to employers.

UK Government policy has been most effective in the areas where these two groups--employers, and workers with caring responsibilities--appear to have interests in common. These areas include measures that improve the ability of employers to recruit and retain workers with caring responsibilities. However, concentration on the current business concerns of employers, rather than examination of the broader economic case for work and family policy, limits the areas in which UK policy can contribute to improving the lives of children and others needing care.

The Three Priorities

In the case of maternity leave, the Government did not even wait for the responses to its consultation exercise. In his March 2001 Budget, the day before the closing date for responses to the consultation paper, the Chancellor, Gordon Gordon, river in W Tasmania, Australia, 125 mi (200 km) long. Flowing from mountains to the W coast, its main tributaries are the Franklin and Denison from the N, and Serpentine and Olga to the S.  Brown, announced an extension of statutory paid maternity leave from 18 to 26 weeks, all but the first six weeks of which would be paid at 100 [pounds sterling] instead of the previous 60.20 [pounds sterling]. (The first six weeks were and remain paid at 90 per cent of normal earnings). This was a partial response to the demand for better paid maternity leave. The figure of 100 [pounds sterling] was still well below minimum wage levels and it was feared that such low maternity pay would still result in financial pressures forcing mothers to return to work before they felt ready to. However, mothers in the poorest households were somewhat protected from these pressures by in-work benefits (tax credits available to low-income low-in·come
Of or relating to individuals or households supported by an income that is below average.
 families with at least one parent in employment) being extended to cover mothers on maternity leave.

Nevertheless, for most mothers, taking their full maternity leave entailed a significant drop in income. Fathers were also given two weeks paternity leave paternity leave
A leave of absence from work granted to a father to care for an infant.

paternity leave ncongé m de paternité

paternity leave 
 paid at the same rate. Given that average male earnings are still considerably higher than women's, this entailed an even bigger drop in family income, though for a shorter period. 'In practice most men take some leave at the birth of a child, but many prefer not to lose money by taking it as annual leave, thus shortening the total amount of time they can spend with their family.

The Government extended paid maternity leave to nine months from April 2007 and promised to increase it to twelve months by the end of the current parliament (May 2010 at the latest). They have suggested that pay and leave in the second six months would eventually be transferable to the father, though no fixed date has been given for the implementation of this part of the Bill. This policy illustrates the UK's position within Europe Europe (yr`əp), 6th largest continent, c.4,000,000 sq mi (10,360,000 sq km) including adjacent islands (1992 est. pop. 512,000,000).  well. Maternity leave is longer but worse paid than leave in most other European countries (Ireland Ireland, Irish Eire (âr`ə) [to it are related the poetic Erin and perhaps the Latin Hibernia], island, 32,598 sq mi (84,429 sq km), second largest of the British Isles.  is the only other European Union European Union (EU), name given since the ratification (Nov., 1993) of the Treaty of European Union, or Maastricht Treaty, to the

European Community
 country that has maternity leave as long as six months). In other countries where mothers can take as much as or more than six months out of employment after the birth of child, it is through taking parental leave that is open to both parents.

Further, long maternity leave can worsen wors·en  
tr. & intr.v. wors·ened, wors·en·ing, wors·ens
To make or become worse.


to make or become worse

worsening adjn
 gender inequalities This page lists Wikipedia articles about named mathematical inequalities. Pure mathematics
  • Abel's inequality
  • Barrow's inequality
  • Berger's inequality for Einstein manifolds
  • Bernoulli's inequality
  • Bernstein's inequality (mathematical analysis)
, especially when not balanced by equivalent leave for men. Poorly paid parental leave, even where it is open to men, has a highly gendered take-up rate, therefore confirming rather than challenging stereotypes about women's role in looking after children, and women's consequent con·se·quent  
a. Following as a natural effect, result, or conclusion: tried to prevent an oil spill and the consequent damage to wildlife.

 'unreliability' as employees. The promotion of gender inequality inequality, in mathematics, statement that a mathematical expression is less than or greater than some other expression; an inequality is not as specific as an equation, but it does contain information about the expressions involved.  has not, until very recently, even been mentioned as an objective of the UK Government's family leave policies.

The second agreed priority was the introduction of paid parental leave (leave that parents can take to look after their child, not specifically associated with the birth, and additional to maternity/paternity leave available around the time of the birth). However, there has been less progress here because of the Government's unwillingness to challenge business interests. Employers claim that any effective parental leave would be unacceptably disruptive disruptive /dis·rup·tive/ (-tiv)
1. bursting apart; rending.

2. causing confusion or disorder.
 and uncompetitive. Unlike many European governments, the UK Government has introduced only unpaid parental leave, as an individual fight to each parent, of four weeks in a baby's first year, and 13 weeks in the first six years of a child's life (more leave and available over a longer period for the parents of disabled children). Unpaid parental leave is much less likely to be taken, particularly by fathers. Further, the restrictions on how such leave could be taken were designed for employer convenience, rendering See render.

(graphics, text) rendering - The conversion of a high-level object-based description into a graphical image for display.

For example, ray-tracing takes a mathematical model of a three-dimensional object or scene and converts it into a bitmap image.
 it very cumbersome cum·ber·some  
1. Difficult to handle because of weight or bulk. See Synonyms at heavy.

2. Troublesome or onerous.

 and often impractical im·prac·ti·cal  
1. Unwise to implement or maintain in practice: Refloating the sunken ship proved impractical because of the great expense.

 for parents. The UK Government had to implement a parental leave scheme to comply with EU regulations, but it did so in the most minimal way that it could. Indeed, it was so minimal that the Government's restriction of parental leave to parents of children born after the law was enacted was successfully challenged in the courts by the Trades Union Congress (TUC TUC (in Britain and South Africa) Trades Union Congress

TUC n abbr (BRIT) (= Trades Union Congress) → federación nacional de sindicatos

TUC n abbr (Brit) (=
), who were represented by Cherie This article is about Cherie the pop and music artist. For Cherie (disambiguation), see Cherie (disambiguation).

Cherie is a pop and dance music artist from France. In 2004 her hit "I'm Ready" hit #1 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.
 Booth, a leading labour lawyer and also the Prime Minister's wife, prepared to take a case against the Government on what was seen as an important issue of principle.

The Government has little enthusiasm for parental leave because it prides itself on the flexibility of the UK labour market. Parental leave is precisely the sort of curb on labour market flexibility Labour market flexibility refers to the degree in which labour markets quickly adapt to fluctuations and changes in society as well as in the economy or production.

In the past, the most common definition of labour market flexibility was the neo-liberal definition.
 to which the business lobby is most vocally opposed. The sort of periodic leave that parental leave might provide is seen as much more disruptive to business than maternity leave. This is because it would be available to a far wider group of workers who would be able to take it in amounts for which it would be difficult for businesses to plan and provide cover. Also, given gender segregation segregation: see apartheid; integration.  in employment, there are currently many employers--those who employ few or no women--who never have to consider the effects of parenthood on their work schedule (and are effectively free-riding Free-riding

A forbidden practice in which the member of an underwriting syndicate retains a portion of an initial public offering (IPO) and resells the securities at a higher price determined by the market at a later time.
 on these who do as a result). Parental leave, because it is open to both parents, makes a whole new set of employers have to take such considerations into account too. With parental leave introduced in such a restrictive form, and only unpaid, it was unlikely to have a high take-up rate, particularly by men. That it might make parents' lives easier, enable more sharing between parents of caring roles and in that way contribute to decreasing gender inequalities, was not seen as a good reason to implement paid parental leave. Currently only four per cent of parents take up the parental leave to which they are entitled en·ti·tle  
tr.v. en·ti·tled, en·ti·tling, en·ti·tles
1. To give a name or title to.

2. To furnish with a right or claim to something:
 in the first year of a child's life (Equal Opportunities Commission 2005). This exemplifies the dilemmas of UK family leave policy 'struggling to reconcile divergent di·ver·gent  
1. Drawing apart from a common point; diverging.

2. Departing from convention.

3. Differing from another: a divergent opinion.

 policy imperatives: to support working parents while maintaining a deregulated and flexible labour market' (Moss and Deven 2005, p. 27).

The third priority was for parents to be able to work part-time part-time
For or during less than the customary or standard time: a part-time job.

 while their children were infants. The Government's responses to this was different from its response to parental leave in that a regular arrangement (also unpaid) was seen as more manageable for employers and potentially of more use to parents. Although the initial focus was on part-time working, in introducing its flexible working provision the Government widened its scope to include other forms of family-friendly working, such as flexitime flex·i·time  
See flextime.


a system permitting flexibility of working hours at the beginning or end of the day, provided an agreed total is worked

 or being able to take work home. However, the provision was simultaneously weakened weak·en  
tr. & intr.v. weak·ened, weak·en·ing, weak·ens
To make or become weak or weaker.

weaken·er n.
 by providing a fight only to request a change in working hours or practices and to have such a request considered seriously. There was no obligation on the employer to accede to accede to
verb 1. agree to, accept, grant, endorse, consent to, give in to, surrender to, yield to, concede to, acquiesce in, assent to, comply with, concur to

 such a request, simply to follow certain procedures in considering it. It is this provision that is the most unusual one, having 'few, if any, parallels overseas, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 the Department of Trade and Industry' (Eaglesham 2005, p. 4). The 'right to request flexible working', which was originally made available only to parents of children aged up to six, has from April 2007 also been available to many of those caring for adults.

It is on this 'very British' provision of the right to request flexible working and its subsequent history that this paper will concentrate by analysing policy statements and survey data. In the next section, the UK economic and social context will be addressed in order to explain why the introduction of this provision was seen to be so important, both by campaigners and the Government. The following section will outline what is known about its effect so far. The final section will assess its likely future impact to consider whether this measure is likely to contribute to or hinder hin·der 1  
v. hin·dered, hin·der·ing, hin·ders
1. To be or get in the way of.

2. To obstruct or delay the progress of.

 the promotion of gender inequality in a society with the economic, social and political make-up Make-up

The amount of deficiency when a cash flow or capital item is deficient. For example, an interest make-up relates to the interest amount above a ceiling percentage.
 of the UK.

The UK Context

It is not surprising that the 'right to request flexible working' should be seen as forming a key component of the 'British approach' to family and work policy. This is because the UK is unique among European countries in the way its youngest children are looked after. There is practically no state provision of child care, child care fees are particularly high, yet the UK has one of the highest employment rates in Europe for mothers of pre-school children, almost as high as those in Scandinavia Scandinavia (skăn'dĭnā`vēə), region of N Europe. It consists of the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; Finland and Iceland are usually considered part of Scandinavia.  (Eurostat 2002).

The UK Government prides itself on having the most flexible labour market in Europe, by which it means the least regulated. It sees this as its key strategy in the face of increasing competition from lower cost economies brought by globalisation globalisation - internationalisation . This is in contrast with many other European countries, notably France and Germany Germany (jûr`mənē), Ger. Deutschland, officially Federal Republic of Germany, republic (2005 est. pop. 82,431,000), 137,699 sq mi (356,733 sq km). , who in the past have eschewed this 'low road' to self-preservation in favour of policies that depend on having a higher skill and productivity base than competitors. UK productivity is low by European standards, particularly when taken on an output per hour basis (because of longer working hours in the UK, comparative productivity figures on an output per full-time worker are not quite so poor).

In order to preserve this labour market flexibility, the Government has insisted on an individual opt-out from the European Working Time Directive The Working Time Directive of the European Union (Council Directive 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning certain aspects of the organization of working time, Official Journal L 307, 13/12/1993 pages 0018–0024; amended by Directive 2000/34/EC of the European Parliament and  (WTD WTD Wanted
WTD Working Time Directive
WTD Work to Do
WTD Weighted Tail Drop (Cisco)
WTD What the Duck (web comic)
WTD What the Duck (online comic strip)
WTD Week to Date
) that limits average working time to 48 hours per week. Under the opt-out, individual workers can choose not to be bound by it, though the TUC claims that many workers who make such a choice do so effectively as a condition of employment, despite regulations explicitly prohibiting this. In 2004, 66 per cent of workers working long hours had never signed or been asked to sign up to the opt-out (BRMB BRMB Big Red Marching Band (Cornell University)
BRMB Birmingham Broadcasting, Ltd. (UK radio station) 
 2004, pp. 25-29).

The result is that men in the UK work the longest hours in the European Union and women are left to provide for their children's care. The solution that the majority of mothers of pre-school children adopt is to work part-time for short hours fitted around their children's care or the help that relatives can give (Matheson and Babb 2002; Fagan 2000). Social attitudes in the UK tend to disapprove dis·ap·prove  
v. dis·ap·proved, dis·ap·prov·ing, dis·ap·proves
1. To have an unfavorable opinion of; condemn.

2. To refuse to approve; reject.

 of full-time employment for mothers of pre-school children, and though many mothers in part-time employment would like to work longer hours, most do not want a full-time job (Twomey 2002; Bielenski, Bosch and Wagner 2001; Albrecht, Per-Anders and Vroman 2000). Of course the preferences that people express reflect the options that they see available to them; in most other European countries part-time work is neither so frequent nor seen as such an obvious solution (Fagan 2001).

Unlike in other European countries, there is a large sector of the UK labour market that is based on employing mothers and others with caring responsibilities for short part-time hours. (The Netherlands is the only other European country with equally high rates of part-time employment.) There are 7.4 million part-time workers in the UK, 79 per cent of who are women (ONS ONS Office for National Statistics (UK)
ONS One Night Stand
ONS Onslaught (Unreal Tournament 2004)
ONS Oncology Nursing Society
ONS Object Naming Service
ONS Offshore Northern Seas
 2004). The main trigger for women working part-time is now the arrival of their second child (Francesconi and Gosling 2005). However, many women appear to get trapped in part-time work and do not return to full-time work even when their children are older. Full-time hours are long, for women as well as men, so it is hard for mothers to get back into full-time employment, making the gender gap between the average number of hours worked by women and men greater than in any other EU country (Eurostat 2002; Fagan 2000). The Government sees this large range of working hours as a sign of the flexibility of the UK labour market, even though the distribution of hours by sex is so uneven (Department of Trade and Industry 2004). (1)

This uneven distribution of working hours imposes high costs on mothers in the UK. Those who take career-breaks or work reduced hours are faced with both short- and long-term Long-term

Three or more years. In the context of accounting, more than 1 year.


1. Of or relating to a gain or loss in the value of a security that has been held over a specific length of time. Compare short-term.
 financial and career penalties. Part-time employment is concentrated in low-skilled and low-paid jobs, for which many mothers are overqualified o·ver·qual·i·fied  
Educated or skilled beyond what is necessary or desired for a particular job.


having more professional or academic qualifications than are required for a job
 (Jacobs 1999; Grant, Yeandle and Buckner 2005; Equal Opportunities Commission 2005). Half of all part-timers have previously held jobs requiring a higher level of skills or qualifications, and 60 per cent of the remainder believe that they could easily work at a level higher than the one at which they are currently employed (Darton and Hurrell 2005). Part-time workers receive 40 per cent less training than their full-time counterparts (Francesconi and Gosling, 2005). Women working part-time earn on average 27 per cent less per hour than a woman working full-time and 40 per cent less than men working full-time, a percentage that has not significantly altered over the last 30 years, despite equal pay legislation and European directives that prohibit pro·hib·it  
tr.v. pro·hib·it·ed, pro·hib·it·ing, pro·hib·its
1. To forbid by authority: Smoking is prohibited in most theaters. See Synonyms at forbid.

 treating part-time workers differently from full-time workers (Hurrell 2005).

Even short periods of reduced labour market activity can have serious effects on a woman's future employment prospects (Joshi, Paci and Waldfogel 1999) and pay (Olsen and Walby 2004). Just one year of working part-time can reduce a woman's earnings by 10 per cent even 15 years after her return to full-time employment (Francesconi and Gosling 2005), and many women working part-time never return to full-time employment. Finally, the pension costs are high. Because so many women have taken time out of the labour market to care for children and/or have worked part-time to do so, only 16 per cent of recently retired women are entitled to a full basic state pension on the basis of their own contributions. Retired women on average receive an income only 57 per cent of retired men's. There are many factors that explain this, but an important one is the UK system of relying on women to adjust their working hours to care for their children when they are young.

The cost of being a mother is therefore higher in the UK than in other European countries (Harkness and Waldfogel 1999) and this cost is highest for low- and mid-skilled women, the mothers most likely to reduce their employment (Davies and Joshi 2001; Davies et al. 2000). Although the cost of motherhood has fallen for women who stay in full-time employment, it increased between 1978 and 1991 for women who let motherhood interrupt A signal that gets the attention of the CPU and is usually generated when I/O is required. For example, hardware interrupts are generated when a key is pressed or when the mouse is moved. Software interrupts are generated by a program requiring disk input or output.  their employment in any substantial way (Davies, Joshi and Peronaci 2000; Joshi, Paci and Waldfogel 1999).

The Right to Request Flexible Working in the UK Context

The right to request flexible working was introduced as a limited 'right', with the only legal challenge possible being procedural; employers are allowed to refuse requests on any grounds, so long as they can show that they followed procedures that amount to taking the request seriously. Nevertheless, the Government claims a high level of success for its innovation, with a government funded survey showing 17 per cent of all employees having requested a change in their working arrangements over the previous two years. The rates were higher (24 per cent) for employees who had the statutory right to request, those with dependent children under six years old, and lowest for those without dependent children (17 per cent) (Department of Trade and Industry 2007, p. 55).

A similar earlier survey had found that of those employees who had made such a request to change, 80 per cent were satisfied with their working arrangements. Of those who had not made such a request, 70 per cent said this was because they were satisfied with their current working arrangements and work-life balance The expression work-life balance was first used in 1986 in the US (although had been used in the UK from the late 1970s by organisations such as New Ways to Work and the Working Mother's Association) to help explain the unhealthy life choices that many people were making; they were , but 10 per cent who had not requested said this was because they were unaware of the right, were not eligible to apply or the job did not 'allow flexible working' (Holt holt  
n. Archaic
A wood or grove; a copse.

[Middle English, from Old English.]


the lair of an otter [from
 and Grainger 2005).

Despite the weak wording of the right, 78 per cent of requests to work flexibly are either fully or partly accepted (Department of Trade and Industry 2007, p. 57), and the introduction of the right to request brought an immediate sharp fall in the percentage of such requests refused outfight v. t. 1. to exceed in fighting; fight more competently; as, He outfought his challengers; the boxer outfought his opponent for eight rounds but lost the bout in the ninth on a knockout s>.
2. to defeat in a battle; as, The French forces outfought the Germans s>.
 from 20 per cent before the fight to request was introduced to 11 per cent in the two years after its introduction (Stevens, Brown and Lee 2004; Palmer 2004). So despite its tentative tentative,
adj not final or definite, such as an experimental or clinical finding that has not been validated.
 nature, the right may be changing employers' willingness to accept changed working arrangements, although male employees are much more likely to have their requests refused (23 per cent) than female employees (13 per cent), particularly in the private sector, where 24 per cent of men's requests are turned down compared with 10 per cent of women's (Department of Trade and Industry 2007, p. 58).

Further, since those successfully requesting a change include many who do not qualify for the fight to do so, it may be that giving the right to a limited set of workers is having a wider effect through changing employer attitudes. Indeed, recent consultations show that many employers now believe that the fight to request should be available to everyone. On the other hand, 44 per cent of those who had changed their working arrangements reported some adverse consequences from doing so, including reduction in pay, intensified in·ten·si·fy  
v. in·ten·si·fied, in·ten·si·fy·ing, in·ten·si·fies
1. To make intense or more intense:
 workload The term workload can refer to a number of different yet related entities. An amount of labor
While a precise definition of a workload is elusive, a commonly accepted definition is the hypothetical relationship between a group or individual human operator and task demands.
 and/or a deterioration de·te·ri·o·ra·tion
The process or condition of becoming worse.
 in relationships with colleagues and/or their manager (Department of Trade and Industry 2007, p. 74).

The earlier survey asked respondents for their occupations and found some differences across occupations in the proportions requesting flexible working, from 10 per cent of managers and senior officials and those in skilled trade occupations to 19 per cent of those in sales, customer services, administrative and secretarial occupations (Holt and Grainger 2005).

Finally, and not very surprisingly, the majority of those requesting a change in their working arrangements are women: 19 per cent of all employees over the past two years, compared with 10 per cent of men. This division was particularly marked among parents with children under six years old, of whom 36 per cent of mothers in employment had made such a request but only 12 per cent of men. Of those who had taken time off to care for others in the past two years, 35 per cent of women but only 25 per cent of men had been caring for a dependent child under six years old; men were more likely to be taking time off to care for a spouse spouse  A legal marriage partner as defined by state law  or partner (see Table 1 for survey results from Holt and Grainger 2005).

This survey also found a difference in the type of flexible working arrangement requested by gender, as Table 2 shows. Female employees were more likely to request part-time working (30 per cent) than any other types of flexible working arrangements, such as flexitime, while men were more likely to request to work flexitime (28 per cent) and only (18 per cent) to work part-time (see Table 2).

Overall, therefore, it seems that the right to request has been fairly successful in enabling workers to change working arrangements, either directly or by changing employers' attitudes more generally. It has been particularly useful for those with caring responsibilities. However, there remains a minority of workers who still have difficulty in this respect, either not requesting a change when their working arrangements are unsatisfactory or having requests for change turned down. There may be others who take for granted the long working hours of the UK and simply have not thought to challenge them.

Further, the right to request seems to have further entrenched en·trench   also in·trench
v. en·trenched, en·trench·ing, en·trench·es
1. To provide with a trench, especially for the purpose of fortifying or defending.

 gender divisions, and not only because employers are more likely to grant women's requests than men's. By enabling even more women to work part-time, without having a proportionate pro·por·tion·ate  
Being in due proportion; proportional.

tr.v. pro·por·tion·at·ed, pro·por·tion·at·ing, pro·por·tion·ates
To make proportionate.
 affect on the number of men doing so, it has done nothing so far to challenge the gender gap in working hours. And while some men are changing their working arrangements in order to devote more time to education, not a bad thing in itself, few women seem to be doing the same. In addition, because use of the right to request does produce some negative consequences for a large proportion of workers, these will be experienced disproportionately dis·pro·por·tion·ate  
Out of proportion, as in size, shape, or amount.

 by women, exacerbating ex·ac·er·bate  
tr.v. ex·ac·er·bat·ed, ex·ac·er·bat·ing, ex·ac·er·bates
To increase the severity, violence, or bitterness of; aggravate:
 pay gaps, stress and stereotypical attitudes to women.


If these have been the effects of the introduction of the new fight to request flexible working, why was a right to work part-time supported so enthusiastically by women's organisations and the trade unions? And why do these groups continue to press for an extension and strengthening of the existing right? Most of the organisations who formed the working group that commented on the 2000 Green Paper are now pressing for a strengthening of the right to request into a right to work flexibly, and an extension of its application, either to all with caring responsibilities or more usually to all workers.

The support for the fight to work flexibly has to be seen in the specific circumstances CIRCUMSTANCES, evidence. The particulars which accompany a fact.
     2. The facts proved are either possible or impossible, ordinary and probable, or extraordinary and improbable, recent or ancient; they may have happened near us, or afar off; they are public or
 of the UK, some of which are shared by other 'Anglo-Saxon' welfare states, including Australia. On the one hand, given the large proportion of women in the labour market, labour market policies are seen as key to promoting equality. On the other hand, with hours of employment and caring responsibilities, particularly for young children, so unequally divided, the time that parents can have to look after children is valued, both socially and by parents themselves. Few women and few women's organisations want to promote a model of equality in which both parents work the long hours that full-time workers currently work in the UK. Organisations that are interested in promoting gender equality tend to favour a form of equality that is based on shorter working hours, certainly less than current UK full-time hours, enabling both parents to play a role in looking after their children.

In this they are attempting to shift policy towards what Nancy Fraser Nancy Fraser (born 20 May 1947) is a critical theorist, currently the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science at the New School in New York City.  called a 'universal care-giver model', but should really be called a 'universal care-giver/ worker model', in which women and men participate equally in both paid work and care-giving (Fraser 1996; Perrons 2000). Fraser contrasts this with a 'universal worker model' in which women and men participate equally in paid work and care is provided through the state or the market, and a 'caregiver parity' model in which care-giving is given equal status and reward to paid work (so that it would not be status or money that drove men and women into their respective roles, which might or might not become less gendered as result).

Fraser rejects both the universal worker model and the care-giver parity parity or space parity, in physics, quantity that refers to the relationship between an object or process and the image that it can produce in a mirror.  model as insufficiently bold in challenging existing gender divisions. Instead what is needed is to dismantle dis·man·tle  
tr.v. dis·man·tled, dis·man·tling, dis·man·tles
a. To take apart; disassemble; tear down.

 the gendered opposition between working and care-giving, to value care-giving as well as working, but disassociate dis·as·so·ci·ate  
tr.v. dis·as·so·ci·at·ed, dis·as·so·ci·at·ing, dis·as·so·ci·ates
To remove from association; dissociate.

 them from divided gender roles. In short, she would like to see a pattern of part-time employment combined with substantial amounts of time spent caring as a universal model for both men and women.

In this view, enabling women and men to share domestic work and in particular caring roles, is key to promoting equality. This would be true in any society, but it is particularly necessary where there is a low level of formal child care provision and, at least for very young children, a strong desire among parents to have enough time to care for their children themselves. These conditions are characteristic of the UK, though its long full-time working hours of men and short part-time working hours of women are not at all conducive con·du·cive  
Tending to cause or bring about; contributive: working conditions not conducive to productivity. See Synonyms at favorable.
 to promoting such equality. More opportunities for caring for men combined with better labour market opportunities for women would be an important step towards this.

Of the two sexes, women in the UK are the ones whose practices fit the caregiver/worker model better. Of course, they pay heavily for this. Their hours of paid work are too short (because their partners aren't working to this model) and their pay is too low (because this model is not universal and therefore, with a few exceptions, they are crowded into poorly paying low-skill jobs). And on the caring side they get insufficient help in sharing their responsibilities with partners, the state or the market.

However, if we are looking to move in the direction of the universal care-giver, then the right to request flexible working is an important step. If it were to be effective, women would not have to adopt a male model of full-time, uninterrupted employment as the only path to equality. If any job can be done at reduced hours, then equality for those combining care-giving with employment is possible. So the important first step that the right to request flexible working could make is to raise the status and conditions of part-time workers. If people did not have to leave their existing jobs to work fewer hours and combine them with caring responsibilities, they would be able to use their existing skills and be appropriately paid. Part-time work would cease to attract the very high penalties that it currently does, and working hours could be adjusted around caring responsibilities. This would directly benefit mainly women at first, but if successful in removing the problems associated with part-time work it should encourage men to work reduced hours too in order to be able to spend time care-giving. For men to do this would have important benefits to women in being able to engage more in the paid economy, and would be an important step towards equality. Eventually, the argument goes, gender equality could be reached on the basis of the universal care-giver/worker model.

In practice, of course, things are more difficult than that. The right to request flexible working would have to be part of a more comprehensive suit of laws to make it that effective. First, it would have to be a right to achieve flexible working, rather than just to ask for it. As we have seen, not every worker who finds their hours inconvenient in·con·ven·ient  
Not convenient, especially:
a. Not accessible; hard to reach.

b. Not suited to one's comfort, purpose, or needs: inconvenient to have no phone in the kitchen.
 has used the right to request; nor has every request been granted. Further, if employers are not required to grant such requests, those who do so can make workers with caring responsibilities pay in other ways for the flexibility they need. Thus organisations that have the better family-friendly working practices can still attract workers even if their pay is lower than that offered by other employers competing in the same labour market. In particular, employers can continue to treat those opting to work reduced hours less well when it comes to training opportunities and promotion, thus leading to the long-time 'scarring' effect of part-time employment that is characteristic of the UK labour market.

Second, the fight would need to be a universal one, applying to all workers, not just those with caring responsibilities. Otherwise those who have the right would be seen as having extra privileges that they might end up paying for in other ways, in employer and co-worker resentment Resentment is an emotion of anger felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong done. Etymologically from "ressentir", French re-, intensive prefix, and sentir "to feel"; from the latin "sentire". The English word has become synonymous with anger and bitterness.  for example, which is currently experienced as a disadvantage of making use of the right to request. This should be backed up by an extension of anti-discrimination law Anti-discrimination law refers to the law on people's right to be treated equally. Most developed countries mandate that in employment, in consumer transactions and in political participation people may be dealt with on an equal basis regardless of sex, race, ethnicity,  to make illegal discrimination against workers who have used a right to work flexibly. (In the UK there is already in force a European Part-time Workers Directive that part-time workers should be treated equally to full-time workers. However, the UK Government adopted the directive in a way that restricts its application to only a small proportion of part-time workers. In particular, it does not cover part-time workers in jobs in which there are no full time comparators. Given the segmented nature of the UK labour market, this means that the majority of part-timers are excluded from its coverage).

Finally, it is necessary that men change too. Working hours need to be reduced, and, in the UK context, this means at least the full adoption of the European Working Time Directive and the abandonment of the individual opt-out. It has to be recognised that caring responsibilities are those of families, not just individuals, so that the so-called 'freedom to choose' to work long working hours of one partner is a restriction on the freedom of those with whom caring responsibilities are shared. That is the very essence of the universal care-giver/worker model. To get from here to there of necessity involves some restrictions on current behaviour.

Given that so much more is needed, it may seem overly optimistic op·ti·mist  
1. One who usually expects a favorable outcome.

2. A believer in philosophical optimism.

 to see the rather weak right to request flexible working as a first step in a movement towards gender equality based on the universal care-giver/worker model. Some may argue that it would be better not to encourage part-time working and take the less risky path of working towards equality in the labour market based on full-time employment for both men and women. Scandinavian countries Noun 1. Scandinavian country - any one of the countries occupying Scandinavia
Scandinavian nation

European country, European nation - any one of the countries occupying the European continent
, after all, have made the greatest strides towards achieving gender equality on the basis of the universal worker model. But the evidence from Scandinavia is not so clear-cut. After all, full-time working hours are among the shortest in Europe there for men as well as women. Perhaps they are also moving towards the universal worker/care-giver model, but from a different direction.

If so, there is a serious question to be considered about the best path to achieve that model. Scandinavia may be following one path; the Netherlands is following another with a much more explicit embracing of the idea of universal part-time work combined with use of some child care services for all parents. The UK's right to work flexibly can be seen as making some very hesitant hes·i·tant  
Inclined or tending to hesitate.

hesi·tant·ly adv.
 steps that may move it in that direction. Whether it does actually move will depend on other matters, such as the tightness of the labour market, which is likely to have more significant effects on gender inequalities than policies specifically designed to address them.


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(1) The UK government Government used this to argue that it should be able to keep the individual opt-out to the WTD, citing the large range of hours worked in the UK, from the very short hours worked by some women to the very long hours worked by some men as evidence of the flexibility of the UK labour market, compared to other countries in which hours worked by women and men are more similar.

Sue Himmelweit, The Open University, United Kingdom
Table 1: Who was cared for by the employee (per cent)?

                              Male       Female       All
                            employees   employees   employees

Dependent child(ren)           25          35          30
  under 6 years old
Spouse/ partner                35           9          23
Parent(s)                      20          18          19
Dependent child(ren) aged      13          21          17
  6-11 years old
Dependent child(ren) aged       *          11           7
  12-16 years old
Other relative(s)               *           *           7

* Sample size too small for a reliable estimate. Percentages
will not add to 100 per cent as respondents could give more
than one response.

Base: All those who had taken time off to fulfil caring
responsibilities. Total of 621 employees.

Source: BMRB Omnibus Survey, January 2005, as reported in
Holt and Grainger 2005, Table A9, p. 39.

Table 2: Types of flexible working requested (per cent)

                                Male       Female        All
                              employees   employees   employees

Part-time                        18          30          25
Flexitime                        28          19          23
Reduced hours for a limited      12          19          16
Compressed working week           *           5           7

* Sample size too small for a reliable estimate. Percentages
will not add to 100 per cent as respondents could give more
than one response.

Note: Respondents could give multiple responses. Respondents
also stated other types of flexible working, but sample
sizes were too small to report above.

Base: All employees who had requested flexible working in
the last two years. Total of 438 employee responses.

Source: BMRB Omnibus Survey, January 2005, as reported in
Holt and Grainger, 2005, Table A4, p. 33)
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Author:Himmelweit, Sue
Publication:Australian Bulletin of Labour
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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